MOSCOW, February 20. /TASS/. Norway is practically violating provisions of the Svalbard Treaty and is rejecting the idea to meet for bilateral talks on the issue, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova told a briefing on Thursday.
On February 4, top diplomat Sergey Lavrov sent a letter to his Norwegian counterpart Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, proposing bilateral consultations to lift restrictions placed on activities of Russian bodies in Svalbard. The letter underlined that Norway should honor the spirit and letter of the 1920 treaty in ensuring "equal free access" to the archipelago and carrying out of business and economic activities "based on conditions of full equality."
"Unfortunately, Russia’s proposals to organize bilateral consultations to hash over problematic issues the Russian business and scientific activity is facing on the archipelago were disregarded," Zakharova lamented. "Let’s not forget that <...> Svalbard was transferred to Norway under certain conditions. In the last few years, Oslo has been practically violating the treaty’s provisions which set out specific obligations of Norwegian authorities in this regard. Such an approach is inadmissible and we do not accept it," the diplomat underlined.
According to her, it is not about debating Svalbard’s sovereignty but rather "about looking for ways to resolve specific difficulties Russian operators experience on the archipelago." "Norway’s non-constructive position, alas, only multiplies these problems," Zakharova noted. "Their complexity is exacerbated, while Oslo’s policy of restricting the Russian presence there casts a shadow on the bilateral ties."
"We do not understand the Norwegian authorities’ tenacious unwillingness to look for constructive ways to resolve this crisis. Such a policy cannot add positive spirit to our cooperation," she concluded.
On February 9, 1920, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the Svalbard Treaty (originally the Spitsbergen Treaty) in Paris. The treaty recognized Norway’s sovereignty over the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and designated it as a demilitarized zone. All states that signed the document obtained the right to conduct business and scientific activity in Svalbard and its territorial waters.
According to Russian experts, the Svalbard Treaty does not clearly determine maritime borders of its effect, which gives rise to disagreements between Moscow and Oslo. In 2002, Norway adopted the environment protection bill, saying that Norwegian authorities should issue a special permit to carry out any activity in Svalbard, while a notice sufficed previously to gain access.
Around 65% of the archipelago’s territory is designated as conservation area by the country. Russia believes that "artificial expansion of conservation areas" limits economic activity on the archipelago.